Jose Ciceraro: ‘comics, cartoons and games are my biggest inspiration’

Meet Jose Ciceraro. Talented character designer, comic maker, UI artist and self-proclaimed lover of cartoons, tacos and awesomeness.

Here he shares his energy and tale of how he came to work in the design industry and how Affinity Designer enables him to create art in his two favourite styles—dynamic vector and painterly raster—without needing to switch programs.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi! I’m Jose Ciceraro, so happy to meet you! By day I am a Principal UI Artist at Insomniac Games. At night I explore character design, comic making and illustration. I am also the super stoked dad to three awesome kiddos and partner to my best friend Lea. They are definitely my source of inspiration.

“I have always loved making vector art and digital painting. So when Affinity Designer was announced, and I saw it could do both, I was sold!”

How did you first come about using Affinity?

I have always loved making vector art and digital painting. So when Affinity Designer was announced, and I saw it could do both, I was sold! I also loved that it wasn’t a subscription-based model. Then, once I saw some of the stuff Jonathan Ball of Poked Studio was doing, I was even more excited. Affinity Designer is hands down my favourite application to work in!

How did you first get into design and illustration?

To this day, I still love comics, cartoons and games. They are my biggest inspiration for drawing. I loved seeing all the artwork in Nintendo Power when I was a kid. I went to school for graphic/web design but always loved drawing. I tried to incorporate illustration into just about every project I could. There is just something about cartoons that excites me. There are so many different styles, tones etc. And the amount of visual development that goes into these projects is so inspiring.

Which of your projects would you say has been most important for developing your style?

So I think for me, working in my sketchbook constantly has helped the most with my personal style. A sketchbook is a place to really cut loose, explore etc. I’m fortunate to work in games, and as a production artist, you have to learn to adapt and change styles often. So I would say my thirteen years as a game developer has helped me to be able to break things down aesthetically and incorporate them into my personal and professional work. I also think style is ever-changing, and it’s important to try and figure out why you like/react to something and then find a way to incorporate that technique or shape into your own visual vocabulary.

“…style is ever-changing, and it’s important to try and figure out why you like/react to something and then find a way to incorporate that technique or shape into your own visual vocabulary.”

What has been your favourite project to date?

I would say my 2019 Artbook. I think that is a project where I really found my flow with Affinity Designer. I was feeling a little burnt out previously and just wanted to make stuff for myself. I was so excited when I jumped into Affinity Designer and realised just how fun the program was. It is familiar but different, it is responsive, it is just so RAD to use haha. Using that program to make pieces for my book really pulled me out of a funk, and it was just pure enjoyment the whole way through.

What illustrators or artists working today do you admire most?

Ohhh, the hardest question yet! There are too many to list, but some standouts are: Charley Harper (not alive but still inspiring!), Akira Toriyama, Brett Bean, Justin Rodrigues, Jose Lopez, Invisible Creature, Dave Guertin, Greg Baldwin, Jonathan Ball, Enrique Fernandes, Fabian Mense, JW and Melissa Buchanan of Little Friends of Print Making, Pete Fowler, Nathan Jurevicius, Genndy Tartakovsky, Lorenzo Etherington, Tom Whalen, and many more.

What’s your ultimate goal as an illustrator?

To create some more artbooks, comics, print, and branch out into teaching. I would love to one day illustrate a little golden book too. Also, to keep growing and learning whilst doing this for as long as possible, and share what I have learned with others.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

That process is there for you when inspiration fails, haste makes waste, and to just be nice to yourself.

Let’s talk about creating an illustration from scratch. How does this process look for you?

My process goes something like this;

  • To sketch and reference gather. This usually happens traditionally in a sketchbook or in Affinity Designer. Sometimes a sketch or thumbnail will trigger a bunch of ideas, and if I need to gather references as a result, I do.
  • Ink/colour study; this step helps establish a good foundation and explore some colour direction.

  • Clean up. If the piece is tighter, this is a good phase to make sure everything is looking good, silhouettes are strong, and nothing is too wonky.

  • Flat local colours, which double as clip layers or masks. I love doing flats in the Vector Persona, especially since you can clip a bitmap layer and do your painting, but still have the flexibility of the original vector shape.

  • Lighting/texture—Highlights, Shadows, Textures etc. I love this part as it really comes alive.

  • I then add any post effects, Noise, Chromatic Aberration, or Levels tweaks.

  • Export—this stage rules because the piece is done! I export and post. I also try to save out steps as I go so I can share the process.

How would you describe your approach to design?

I would say it’s a pretty organic approach. I love to brainstorm and sketch and write ideas down and just see how things build on top of each other and fit together—especially bits that help with any sort of narrative. I do have a pretty solid structure in case I feel stuck. Within each step, there is a lot of wiggle room to figure things out.

How do you think your style has changed (if at all) over the past few years?

I think over the last few years I have figured out what I like making and how I like making it. This has led to me branching out in a couple of different directions. That is one of the things I am SO grateful to Affinity for. It’s just SO ENJOYABLE to use. And in the same program, I can do a vector style I love and a more painterly style—WITHOUT CHANGING APPS!!!! It really is my favourite program haha!

“…in the same program, I can do a vector style I love and a more painterly style—WITHOUT CHANGING APPS!!!! It really is my favourite program haha!”

Can you tell us what you’re working on currently?

I’m currently working on a new artbook, some prints, tutorials and two comics.

Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in character design?

Be nice to yourself. Look at other art outside of character design. Explore with shapes. Figure out a process that works for you and that drawing is done in passes.


You can view more of Jose’s work on his Instagram, Behance and dribbble accounts.